Older ‘affordable’ homes are exposing young Aussie renovators to asbestos

By Jarrod
4 Min Read

Many Aussies are being exposed to fatal asbestos fibres after rising home prices force younger renovators into ageing properties. 

With the average modern Australian home costing an estimated $912,700 in today’s market, many young Australians are flocking to older, cheaper ‘fixer-uppers’ in a bid to get onto the property ladder. 

But, while these older homes command a more ‘affordable’ price tag, asbestos law expert Hannah Murray says young renovators run the risk of uncovering a “toxic secret”.

“It’s a scene I think we’re all familiar with,” said Murray.

“Older houses or ‘fixer uppers’ appeal to young people as they’re often the most affordable homes to buy.”

“A first-time home buyer moves in next door and plans to renovate their home to save money. Soon enough, the new owner starts ripping it apart, and before you know it, there’s a pile of debris out the front.”

“As an asbestos lawyer, this scene concerns me. In Australia, a home that was built before 1990 almost certainly has asbestos in it.”

Despite being banned for the last 20 years, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency reports a staggering 3.5 million homes still contain trace amounts of asbestos.

Without the proper protection, inhaling even trace amounts of asbestos dust and fibres can cause mesothelioma – an aggressive terminal cancer for which there is no cure.

About 4000 people still die each year from cancer and other asbestos-related diseases – three times the national road toll.

Ms Murray says social media trends and the rising cost of living have made DIY renos more popular than ever, but many young homeowners aren’t aware of the risks. 

“Recently, I’ve seen a surge of DIYers posting their projects over social media,” said Murray. 

‘With the rising cost of living, DIY has become increasingly popular, and many Australians have been inspired by social media to renovate their own homes.” 

“I was born in the 90s, so when I grew up asbestos had been phased out in building products. I don’t remember learning about asbestos in school. I had a very limited understanding of how commonly asbestos was used and how dangerous it was until I started working in asbestos litigation.”

While found mainly in old kitchen and bathroom areas, asbestos can be hidden almost anywhere in and around the home, including roofing, flooring, fencing, putty/glues, plumbing, cement building materials, carpet underlay and insulation.

Chair of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council, Paul Bastian, said that, with expected extreme weather conditions increasing the chance of exposure this summer, renovators must take precautions. 

“We often hear about renovators discovering asbestos after starting a project, which means they may already have exposed themselves, their family, and their neighbours, as well as then having to deal with unexpected delays and costs,” said Mr Bastion.

“We’re calling on tradies, homeowners, and anyone planning renovations, repairs, or other work on older buildings to think twice about asbestos and don’t cut corners. 

“Know where asbestos is before starting work and don’t touch it if you don’t have the training and equipment to remove it safely – use a licensed asbestos professional instead. 

“Just like plumbing and electrical work, asbestos removal is a job best left to the experts.

“We have done so much as a nation to prevent asbestos exposure, but the job isn’t over. 

“Together, we can stop a new wave of suffering and wipe out asbestos-related diseases in Australia. Once asbestos is safely removed, it’s gone for good.”

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.